Author often &8216;ambassador’ for Natchez

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Natchez author Greg Iles hears the question all the time: Why are you still living in Mississippi?

His reasons are simple &045; his children’s grandparents are here, and he wants his family to grow up with that influence.

&8220;I want my kids exposed to aunts and uncles and grandparents,&8221; said Iles, whose newest book, &8220;The Footprints of God,&8221; will be released Tuesday.

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As a best-selling author, Iles finds himself in the company of other Mississippi writers like John Grisham and Donna Tartt.

But Grisham and Tartt have left their Mississippi roots behind, and Iles is still living in his hometown &045; and, occasionally, making it a setting for his novels.

Iles is in the company of famous writers figuratively, on the bestseller list, and literally, in a unique band of musically inclined authors.

But staying in Natchez presents challenges, as it has for many families these days.

&8220;We’ve stayed here even through some obviously difficult economic times,&8221; Iles said last week during a discussion about the plot of his latest thriller.

His biggest concern, he said, is education. It’s one of the reasons his Saturday book-signing helped benefit Trinity Episcopal Day School, where his children are students.

But Iles is also looking at the community’s leadership &045; and wondering how this year’s county elections and next year’s municipal races might affect Natchez’s future.

&8220;We’re at a watershed point in this community,&8221; Iles said. &8220;We need visionary leadership.&8221;

The contradiction is apparent for the writer: He is raising his children in Natchez, but his raising them, he said, &8220;to live outside of Natchez.&8221;

Iles is not unlike many of the people I speak to each week who are concerned about the community’s future &045; people who not only voice their worries but also look for solutions to our problems.

We all know that we have people in town who like to complain, but I’ve heard from enough people on a daily basis to know that we also have more people who want to fix things.

And Iles is in a unique position as an author whose popularity grows with every book he writes.

Recounting a story about one of his gigs with the literary band, he was amazed first to find three or four fans waiting to talk just to him.

He was even more amazed when he met a Seattle reader whose affection for &8220;The Quiet Game&8221; &045; the novel set during the Civil Rights movement in Natchez &045; led him and his wife on a 3,000-mile journey to the South, and, of course, to Iles’ hometown.

&8220;You have no idea what effect you have on people,&8221; Iles said.

For Iles, though, the effect is not just on readers but on Natchez. He knows residents enjoy the notoriety of having a best-selling author living here &045; and he takes his role as an &8220;ambassador&8221; seriously.

&8220;Wherever I go, there’s always somebody who knows about Natchez,&8221; he said, noting the city has a brand name it can capitalize on.

&8220;Most towns of 20,000 are starting from nothing,&8221; he said. &8220;We need to get busy selling that.&8221;

Kerry Whipple

is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3541 or by

e-mail at kerry.whipple